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State Sen. Speier Calls for Ephedra Ban

Mar 2, 2003 | San Francisco Chronicle

State Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco, is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to remove all ephedra-based diet supplements from stores until they are proven to be safe and effective.

After five years of consideration, FDA officials proposed Friday that ephedra-based products bear special labels to warn consumers of health risks.

The FDA recently released the results of a RAND Corp. study concluding that ephedra provides minimal benefit while presenting substantial health risks.

The FDA also sent out warning letters to 26 companies, including two in California, for making false claims that ephedra enhances athletic performance and can cure diseases or conditions such as obesity.

But Speier says that the FDA's recent actions are not enough.

"Unfortunately the FDA seems to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said Speier on Friday. "If the FDA really wanted to do something to immediately protect consumer health, they would take these products off the shelves until they are proven to be safe and effective''

Ephedra has gained increased notoriety since the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler on Monday, Feb. 17, which many medical experts have blamed on the drug.

Speier is no newcomer to the ephedra safety debate. The senator authored legislation last year that prohibited the sale of ephedra to minors and required labels that list potential health risks and the FDA's toll-free complaint line. The bill took effect this January.

Speier is now sponsoring legislation that would ban the sale of the supplement in California. She has also introduced a bill requiring manufacturers of ephedra products to disclose all consumer health complaints they receive to the state Dept. of Health Services.

In arguing for the legislation, Speier cited a recent article in the "Annals of Internal Medicine" that claims ephedra is responsible for 64 percent of all adverse reactions to herbs in the United States.

Ephedra has already been banned by the National Football League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the International Olympic Committee. Since pitcher Belcher's death, Major League Baseball banned the use of the drug by minor league players and is contemplating a similar ban for big leaguers.

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